A survey of almost 8,000 women in major cities across the UK, has found that nearly three-quarters of them never get on their bikes for local journeys.
The polling, for cycling charity Sustrans, focused on women in Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Greater Manchester. It found that while more than two thirds of women say their city would be a better place if more people cycled, that didn’t translate to them commuting by bike themselves, or making short journeys on two weeks. Worse, 30% of those women who don’t cycle would like to be hopping on their bikes.
So what’s got to change?
One of the major concerns holding women back is fears over cycling safety. As someone who commutes to work in London, I’m often told by female friends and family that they can’t believe I cycle in the city – it’s too busy and dangerous, they argue.
While I agree many roads are hectic, planning your route ahead of time and finding alternative, quieter roads can make the journey less intimidating.
According to the survey, only one quarter (27%) of women think cycling safety in their city is good, while four-fifths of women (79%) support building more protected cycle lanes even if this means less space for other vehicles.
Sustrans are using the report to call for change to encourage more women to cycle. Xavier Brice, CEO at Sustrans, said: “Evidence from the UK and beyond shows that when dedicated space for riding a bike is provided, alongside engagement programmes, the gender gap in cycling can be eliminated.
“Governments at all levels need to listen to women’s voices and invest in a network of dedicated cycling routes and training so that everyone feels comfortable and confident to ride a bicycle, regardless of gender, age and disability.”
If you want to start commuting by bike, try going on a test drive of your commute on a weekend when it might be less busy and you don’t have the time pressure of getting to work. In her recent cycling column, Amy Packham tried various options to see if the journey was something she could do long term.
Another option to get more confident on two wheels is joining a cycling group. Lucy Barnett, 30, from East London, was once too scared to join a cycling group because she was scared she’d hold everyone back. Now, she’s a proud member of London mountain bikers group and cycles to and from work every day. “I realised there’s no shame in biking slowly,” she previously told HuffPost UK. “Not only are the people in the group supportive and encouraging, they do women-only rides which are brilliant for building your confidence and sharing your worries with others, who are so understanding and usually say, ‘I feel like that too’.”
If you’re cycling again after a hiatus, many local councils may also offer free cycling safety lessons and a bike check-up, so you can have peace of mind before you set off. Amy Packham made it her New Year’s Resolution to start cycling more and had a refresher lesson in January – the same instructor later accompanied her on her test drive commute.